August 02, 2020
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Waffle of the toffs? Who is M. Prabha? Does she exist? Where does she live?

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illustration by Jayachandran Manil Suri may have been knocked off the top of the largest advance chart for Indian novelists by Anglo-Kashmiri Hari Kunzru but he’s still going strong in the US. His Death of Vishnu is one of the finalists for the annual Los Angeles Times prize for best first fiction. And so what if Pankaj Mishra won the same award last year for The Romantics—Indian novels and novelists are as literary chic these days as the Latin Americans were in the ’70s. Suri’s also a finalist for two other US book awards: the Penn/ Faulkner Award and the W.H. Smith Award. Suri hasn’t made it to Oprah Winfrey’s book club as yet, but he’s made it to the second best club: a book award by America’s largest bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble, which will mean a $75,000 promotion for a year. Suri wisely stayed off Neemrana but made time to visit Gujarat recently to research his next book, The Age of Shiva.

illustration by Jayachandran When a former editor of a leading newsmagazine writes a novel, one expects he’ll go to David Godwin, Penguin, other major publishing houses (in that order), unless, of course, he’s Arundhati Roy, in which case he’d open his own publishing outfit. But Inderjit Badhwar’s Sniffing Papa is published by newcomer Tara Press, an imprint of well-known Delhi bookshop owners Bahri & Sons. Badhwar’s unusual choice of publisher mystified the guests who assembled in the sunny lawns of Congressman Kamal Nath’s bungalow on Tughlak Road for an elegant book lunch, er, launch, with a reading by Naseeruddin Shah. But far from clearing the mystery, Badhwar further confused things by declaring that one of the first persons he sent the manuscript to was M. Prabha, the author of a vicious diatribe against the IWE two years ago called The Waffle of the Toffs, in which the phenomenon was dismissed as a name fame game of the cultural elite. M. Prabha apparently hailed Badhwar’s book as a punch in the face of IWE. How and why, she didn’t say.

illustration by Jayachandran By a stroke of luck, The Waffle of the Toffs was delivered to Bibliofile the very afternoon by a small, bald Professor Sharma from California. Who is M. Prabha? Does she exist? Where does she live? Sharma only said that after teaching Australian poetry at JNU, Prabha wrote this "sociocultural critique", refused all invitations for lectures and book discussions and disappeared into a nameless American university.

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